Saturday, July 30, 2011

Indian Investment Spurs Gippsland Product Line

Indian Investment Spurs Gippsland Product Line: "

Keep an eye on India’s Mahindra Group as a growing force in aerospace.

On the same day that the Indian conglomerate signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Eurocopter to supply and develop civilian helicopter aerostructures, Mahindra Aerospace executive director and CEO Arvind Mehra sat down with Aviation Week at AirVenture to outline its ambitions in the general aviation market up to 18 seats, and as a supplier to the global aerospace industry.

“I have approval to invest up to $120 million over the next three years in current programs,” Mehra told Aviation Week. “At some point after that, we will look for larger aircraft.”

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Mahindra Aerospace executive director Arvind Mehra (seated) at AirVenture on Wednesday, with GippsAero rep Randy Juen sheltering him from the rain.

Photo by Maureen Spuhler.

Mahindra’s focus right now is the GippsAero company it acquired last year for $20 million, the Australian manufacturer of the eight-seat GA8 Airvan. GippsAero was (and is), says Mehra, a fantastic company that found itself in a terrible position—lack of funds to develop future programs. And that made it a good opportunity for Mahindra, which aims to invest long term in the aerospace industry.

The key market, Mehra says, is the U.S., as developing markets build momentum. India will be a key market down the road, but not yet.

In the meantime, Mahindra plans to boost U.S. and global sales, expand the product line, and be ready as developing markets explode.

“Our first focus is a production facility in the U.S.,” he said, as all U.S. content currently is shipped to Australia for assembly on the Australian-built airframes. Later, manufacture could also be set up in India, if the economics warrant it. His goal is for GippsAero aircraft assembly lines to get parts from wherever it makes economic sense.

“Our business model is not geography-specific,” Mehra said. “The Mahindra Group is global, with a global perspective, employing 120,000 worldwide.”

“We feel that if you are foreign made, you are at a disadvantage in the U.S.,” added Randy Juen, general manager of STOL Aviation Inc., of New Richmond, Wisconsin, which represents GippsAero in the U.S.

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The GA8 Airvan, which Juen says will carry 40% more than a Cessna 206 while costing far less than a Cessna Caravan, should be selling far better in the U.S. “but it is still not well known” despite the Civil Air Patrol operating 16 of the 26 aircraft sold here over the last 10 years. About 170 aircraft are operated worldwide by 40 customers.

Mehra says the first step is to boost sales in the U.S. The second is to add new models.

A stretched, 10-seater Airvan GA10 is under development, powered by the Rolls-Royce M250-B17F/2 turboprop engine, it was announced here at AirVenture. Certification is due to begin next March, and Mahindra believes production could reach 20 a year for Europe, Asia and India. The RR500 will also be explored as a future powerplant.

Also under development is the GA18, a resurrection of the 18-seat Nomad twin-engined turboprop, the type certificate for which Mahindra acquired when it bought Boeing Aerostructures in Australia last year. The new aircraft, while using the Nomad type certificate, will be significantly upgraded, Mehra said.

Mahindra will also introduce a five-seat piston engined aircraft, the NM5. Developed with India’s National Aerospace Laboratories, this will be India’s first mass-produced light utility aircraft. First flight is planned for next month.

Mahindra already has experience in the two-seater market, digitizing the blueprints and then building 26 of the Seabird Seeker observation aircraft for an Australian company.

“So we are looking at line-up of aircraft from two to 18-seats,” said Mehra, as well as the GA 200C Fatman cropduster and aerial utility aircraft.


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